Stories when told by talented storyteller can become alive for the listeners and evoke vivid images in their minds as well as strong emotions. Well told stories can make people cringe in fright, cry tears of joy or sadness and motive the dullest person. Some stories can even take on a life of their own and come back to haunt you. This happened to me at least once.
In the 1980’s I used to live in the city of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Back then I was a drinking man and used to spend a lot of time in a bar called Finnigan’s. The music was usually great Irish Folk and the draught beer tasted good. I had made friends with one of the performers, a folk artist by the name of Bill Root. One night, during one of his break’s, we sat a table in a dim corner of the bar. It was Bill’s last night in this gig and he was heading out to Saskatchewan the next day. As usual he gave me one word “ghost”.
Now, you see, we played a game. Every time he came back to play at Finnigan’s, I would have to tell him a story that I made up from a word that he gave me when he had been there before. If he liked the story, I got a free pitcher of draught beer from him. I got a lot of free pitchers of draught beer. In fact, we were just polishing off the last free pitcher. This was around the time I was doing some storytelling in local schools and on the sidewalks of Downtown Kingston for tourists.
Well, when Bill returned a month later, I had the story ready. At one of his breaks I told him of the “Haunted Table of Finnigan’s”. I made it all up one night while sitting alone at one of the tables in a dim corner of the bar. Bill loved the story! In fact, a number of people, including the bar owner had listened in and really enjoyed it. In the week and months that followed, the bar owner had me tell it to various patrons in return for – you guessed it! – a pitcher of draught beer.
Several months later, I started a new job where I was one of two men working amongst a whole bevy of ladies. At coffee breaks the other fellow and I often sat quietly, listening to the ladies chat. We both felt that we were a bit out of place there. But some of the ladies decided to make us feel more welcome. One asked me if I had a favorite pub or bar. When I replied yes, that I liked going to Finnigan’s, she indicated that she too attended the place. Then she asked if I had ever heard of the haunted table in Finnigan’s and if I had ever seen the ghost. She, of course, had never seen it, but had a friend who had a friend who had heard the whole story from the guy who had seen it. And -you guessed it – I was that guy. No, I did not enlighten her about that fact or that I had made up the story.
I have not been back to Kingston for over 13 years. Finnigan’s is gone but I bet the story of the Haunted Table of Finnigan’s is still alive!
What’s that? You want to hear the story of the haunted table of Finnigan’s? If I were still a drinking man, it would have cost you a jug of draught. But for old time’s sake and for my old friend, Bill Root, where ever he might be strumming his guitar and singing his songs, here goes it!
One dark and stormy Halloween, I landed in Finnigan’s for a few draughts to wet my whistle. I had been out of town and out of touch up north for a few months. When I wandered into the room, I saw Sally behind the bar and waved. She smiled and waved back and continued to clean her glasses. Feeling duly welcomed home, I glanced around the nearly empty room and saw Seamus, my old friend sitting in a darken corner. I waved. He stared back like he did not know me. Then it was like a light bulb came on behind his eyes. He smiled and waved me over.
“Jim, it’s you!” he said and hung his head. “I am sorry I did not recognize you.”
“It’s ok, Seamus”, I replied soothingly. “How have you been? Where’s Mary?” He looked at me with the strangest look in his eyes. It was then I noticed a strange smell in the corner – like that of wet seaweed.
“You don’t know?” He inquired sadly.
“Know what, Seamus? I have been away for six months. Tell me what’s wrong, please”
“Sorry, Jim. Of course! Of course!” He paused and drew a breath.
“About two months ago I shipped out on a boat to Thunderbay. Mary, of course, stayed here. My ship foundered in a storm on Lake Michigan and I was washed overboard. Someone found me half drowned on the shore near Green Bay. I had amnesia and could not remember a thing. To make a story short, they found out who I was, were I came from and suggested I return here to help gain my memory.” He paused and exhaled a breath. The smell of dank seaweed was getting stronger.
“I came into Finnigan’s and Sally, the barmaid seemed to know me. Glancing around I saw a young woman sitting at this table in the corner. She also seemed to know me and waved happily at me. I went over and sat down. Jim, it was Mary! It all started to come back. She said she knew I was not dead and had waited for me like she promised.”
“Jim”, he continued with a strange look in his eyes.
“Jim, she looked like death warmed over. And there was a strange smell of dank seaweed. But before I could find out what was wrong …” He stifled a sob.
“Then Sally tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I wanted a drink. I ordered a jug of draught for me and a glass of wine for Mary – see – I was beginning to remember!
But Sally put her hand on my shoulder and quietly said, “ Oh Seamus, I’m am sorry. Didn’t anyone tell you? Mary drowned in a boating accident last week. We didn’t know where you were. I’m sorry.”
“Jim, I was stunned! Not believing Sally, I turned back to Mary – BUT SHE WAS NOT THERE!”
Well now, I also was stunned! So much had happened to my friends while I was away. Then Sally tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I wanted to drink. I ordered a jug of draught for Seamus and a whiskey for me. I needed a stiff drink.
But Sally put her hand on my shoulder and quietly said, “ Oh Jim, I’m sorry. Didn’t anyone tell you? Mary and Seamus drowned in a boating accident last week. They are buried together in the cemetery overlooking the harbour. I’m sorry.”
I turned back with trepidation to Seamus – BUT HE WAS NOT THERE!
James Foster Robinson